By Bronzeville Life Staff writer
In Chicago, voter burnout is more than just a buzzword – it’s a critical issue that is affecting the very foundation of democracy, especially for Black communities. Despite voting being a fundamental tool for shaping policies and selecting leaders, voters are drowning in a sea of political noise, with never-ending attack ads, sensationalized news, and relentless social media chatter. Voter burnout is taking its toll on the engagement of citizens and the direction of politics in Chicago.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Chicago, voter burnout is particularly prevalent among Black voters, who are more likely to experience feelings of frustration, cynicism, and exhaustion when it comes to politics. This is due, in part, to the long history of voter suppression and disenfranchisement in the Black community, which has left many voters feeling skeptical about the power of the vote to effect real change.
“Ultimately, the key to combatting voter burnout is to rebuild trust in the political process and empower citizens to make their voices heard through meaningful participation in elections and other civic activities.” Said Dr. Nakita Cloud, Communications Director for Senator Napoleon Harris.
Additionally, Black voters are often targeted by negative campaign ads and misinformation, which can further erode their trust in the political process. These factors, combined with the daily stresses of life in a city with deep structural inequalities and racial segregation, can make it difficult for many Black voters to muster the energy to engage with politics and civic life.
As a result of this burnout, voter turnout among Black voters in Chicago has been steadily declining over the past decade. In the 2019 mayoral election, for example, only 32% of registered Black voters turned out to cast a ballot, compared to 47% of white voters. This disparity is particularly striking given that the Black community makes up roughly one-third of the city’s population.
The consequences of low voter turnout among Black voters are significant. When fewer Black voters show up at the polls, it becomes more difficult for Black candidates to win elections and for Black interests to be represented in government. This, in turn, can lead to policies that disproportionately harm the Black community, such as cuts to social services or increased policing.
Dr. Cloud continued, “To address this issue, it’s essential to increase education and outreach around voting rights and the political process, advocate for voting rights reforms, and recognize and address the unique challenges and stresses that Black voters face in the political arena.”
Dr. Cloud continued to say that addressing voter burnout can involve from hosting community events and town hall meetings to partnering with local organizations to provide voter education and registration services, “It’s essential to increase civic engagement among Black voters in Chicago.”
Another important strategy is to address the underlying causes of voter burnout, such as the legacy of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. This could involve advocating for voting rights reforms, such as automatic voter registration, early voting, and vote-by-mail, as well as working to combat gerrymandering and other forms of voter suppression.
The roots of voter burnout among Black voters in Chicago are complex and multifaceted. One major factor is the legacy of voter suppression and disenfranchisement that has long plagued the Black community. This includes everything from poll taxes and literacy tests in the Jim Crow era to more recent efforts to restrict voting through voter ID laws and gerrymandering.
Additionally, many Black voters feel that their voices are not heard or valued by politicians, particularly when it comes to issues that affect the Black community. This can lead to a sense of apathy and disengagement, as well as a feeling that the political system is rigged against them.
Nedra Willis is a single mother of three young children who says she has lost faith in the voting process, “I’m exhausted by the constant rhetoric and empty promises from politicians who claim to care about our community but consistently fail to deliver.”
Another factor contributing to voter burnout among African American voters is the constant bombardment of negative political messaging, particularly on social media. Many Black voters report feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of political content they are exposed to, as well as frustrated by the divisiveness and negativity of much of this content.
Ms. Willis was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago and at the age of 38 says that she feels like her voice doesn’t matter in the political system, “I still hold on to hope, although it’s disheartening to see the same cycle of injustice and inequality repeat itself election after election. It’s hard to muster the energy to engage in the political process when the system seems rigged against us.”
Finally, it’s important to recognize and address the unique stresses and challenges that African American voters face, both in their daily lives and in the political arena. This could involve creating spaces for dialogue and support.